It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to address you today at this UN / US Symposium in New York. We stand at an important time in history, and those of you who serve either here at the United Nations or in the United States government have a great and noble mission and responsibility.
The United States has been joined together with the United Nations from the very beginning. US President Woodrow Wilson was central to the establishment of the League of Nations after World War I. Later, during the final months of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt turned his attention to establishing an international organization of nations in order to bring an end to war. After Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman continued the effort, convening representatives from 50 nations in San Francisco in April 1945, resulting in the adoption of the UN Charter.
As you know, the Charter adopted in San Francisco on June 26 begins, “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.…”
The origins of the United States were, in my estimation, equally noble, as the founders articulated a vision of “one nation under God,” a nation in which people of every race, religion, nationality, and culture, could live together in peace, guided by self-evident truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In some respects, the United States was a kind of forerunner of the United Nations, drawing people of every other nation, culture, religion, ethnicity and race to its shores. Of course, like the United Nations, the USA has not always been able to live up to the noble ideals enshrined in its founding documents.
At this time in history, both the UN and the USA are at a crossroads. At the same time, both the UN and the USA have critical roles to play if we are to create a world of lasting peace. Today, I want to offer three recommendations that I believe are relevant to both the UN and the USA as we look forward:
The first has to do with the role of religion and spiritual wisdom. At this time in history there needs to be a fresh effort to integrate religious wisdom with the political and diplomatic search for solutions to our world’s critical problems.
When my father spoke here at the UN in August of 2000, he proposed the establishment of an interreligious council within the UN system. His vision was not a narrow or sectarian view, but rather an interfaith vision, a vision of humanity being one family under God.
The USA has always upheld the ideal of “one nation under God.” Rather than a vision that called all people to join one religion, this ideal called for an appreciation of the sacred value of each and every person, regardless of their religion, their race, or their nationality.
At the time of the founding of the United Nations, especially during the time of Stalin and Soviet ideology, the concept of including religious values was not seriously entertained.
However, in this year, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we should consider the origin or root of human rights and human value. Is it a value constructed by human invention, or is it an absolute value that comes from a divine source, as we have been taught by our world’s religious traditions?
I believe our religious traditions have a clearer message on this matter than do many governments. The world’s religions need to come together now in a spirit of harmony, cooperation, and peace, and, together with governments, work to establish a world of lasting peace.
My second recommendation has to do with developing a culture of service. If we are to achieve lasting peace, we must develop a culture of living for the sake of others. It is selfishness and greed that give rise to corruption, the violation of human rights, monopolization of resources, abuse of the environment, and violence.
One of the greatest service efforts of the United States, beginning in the Kennedy administration, has been the Peace Corps. Such a “peace corps” should be expanded on a global level, centering on a spirit of volunteerism, guided by a principle of living for the sake of others.
If the US and the UN could team up in promoting a global service initiative, involving governments, civil society, and faith-based organizations around the world, we could see great progress toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Finally, I want to underscore the importance of the family. Strong, stable, and healthy families are the foundation of strong, stable, healthy societies, nations, economies, governments, schools, and businesses. The family is really the original school of love, ethics, citizenship, and peace. Both the US and the UN could do more to promote educational programs that strengthen marriage, family, and parenting skills.
In conclusion, I want encourage both the UN and the USA to explore ways to increase investment and collaboration in these three areas:
• establishing an interreligious council at the United Nations
• developing a “global peace corps” to establish a global culture of service
• developing an initiative to strengthen marriage and family